Membranes And Shingles: Modern Roofing Materials Explained

The two most important aspects of any effective roof system are the weatherproof membrane and the weatherproof shingles that protect it. In North America, most residential roofs are sloped to some degree, often forming a classic A-frame. Sloped roofs typically shed water and ice more quickly and easily than flat roofs. However, it should be noted that “flat” roofs are not truly flat – Current International Building Code(IBC) requires a minimum 2% slope for drainage. Depending on the chosen system and installation quality, a flat roof can last from 10-50 years.

Roof systems are typically one of three varieties: bitumen (built-up), fluid applied, and single-ply weatherproof membranes. Among single-ply membranes, there are three more categories: EPDM, TPO, and PVC. Each of these membranes has distinct characteristics that offer advantages and disadvantages based on the application and the overall design effect you are trying to accomplish.


For over a century, bitumen roof systems were most common among flat roof construction. While the system offers a proven and highly resistant product, it struggles in cold climates due to its inability to remain flexible at low temperatures. “Fluid applied” is often used over other traditional roof materials or in addition to a secondary material for tensile strength. Commercial architects are currently specifying single-ply membrane systems at an increasing rate. Single-ply membranes can be purchased in light colors to aid in a roof’s reflectivity and overall energy performance. The predictability and consistency of single-plyProfessional Roofers in the GTA will often argue that single ply membranes are ideal for several reasons, a confluence of factors that are related to the overall form and function of the roof and its ability to drain off precipitation, resist mold and rot, and generally keep the structure it sits upon dry.

Architectural shingles come in various materials, colors, and styles to meet the designer’s architectural vision. Alternate names include laminated or dimensional shingles, and these products are considered the crème de la crème of the roofing world. Asphalt shingles are the most common, but other options include slate, cedar shake, and terracotta. While shingles can play a major role in a building’s aesthetics, their critical purpose is to protect the waterproof membrane. In addition to the high-quality protective element, homeowners and commercial building owners should pay close attention to the product supplier and installers’ warranties. Typical asphalt shingles should last at least twenty years, even in extreme climates.

Whether you go with weatherproof membrane or architectural shingles, it is important to remember that any building envelope should be viewed as a cohesive system rather than a series of individual components. Both the designer and the installer must understand how the various components interact before installation begins. Regardless of what system is chosen, a roof will only perform as well as it is installed.

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